The Evolution of the American Kitchen, As Seen in Rare Photos
| LAST UPDATE 08/03/2022
The kitchen always has and will forever be the central point of the home. A place to cook, eat and socialize, even as technology and style has evolved, its purpose has stayed consistent through the years...
1913: Shelves For Cabinets
It doesn't matter what era, people's days have always revolved around eating the main meals. This may be a black and white photo but two men eating a big breakfast in the kitchen is still a common practice.
Although the situation is still pertinent, there are noticeable differences in the kitchen layout. For one, there are no cabinets! Kitchen shelves were installed to hold all the kitchen utensils and food supplies. One feature that is very much still in place today is the abundance of family photos hung up throughout the kitchen.
1915: An Abandoned Boxcar
The mid-1950s were all about creativity and innovation, and the at-home kitchen was no exception. This is perfectly represented by this picture of a small kitchen in an abandoned boxcar! Back then, there was seemingly no problem that a bit of DIY couldn't fix.
This kitchen is a part of an entire home made from an abandoned boxcar. This is a railroad car that would most probably have been used to transport freight. The innovative family transformed the back corner of the box into a kitchen equipped with a small countertop and a standalone stove unit.
1922: A Practical Approach
Long before the days of convenient take-outs, the woman of the house was making all the food. There were no quick, on-the-go meals either. At the end of each day, the 1920 family would sit down to a warm, home-cooked meal - side dishes, salads, and dessert included. Every day was restaurant-style.
In order to make these lavish meals, a fully-functioning kitchen was necessary. In the '20s, practicality was prioritized above anything else - including decoration and style. This large stovetop and kettle ensured the woman had the space and facilities needed to prepare food for her family.
1924: Chilled Groceries
This woman's marcel wave hairstyle is not the only thing in this picture that's screaming '20s style. This photo features another phenomenon of that time - no, not the plastic milk bottle but the fridge. On the phone to the grocer placing an order, we're curious what was on her list.
For the first time, families were able to store items in an icebox. Those cooking the food were now able to store, freeze or recycle food and ingredients from the comfort of their own home. What is now a kitchen staple was then a life-changing kitchen invention. Milk, eggs, and cake would be good for days!
1928: Oversized Sink
Just four years between this photo and the last, but the differences in the kitchen's appearance are vast. In the late '20s came the arrival of the freestanding sink. While an oversized sink sounds perfect for storing all the family's dirty dishes, it took up much space in the kitchen and compromised countertop space.
On the plus side, this time period introduced the Monarch electric stove to the American kitchen. Although similarly oversized, its kitchen takeover was slightly more justified. Families were able to prepare food in an entirely new, modern, and convenient way. It was the must-have kitchen appliance.
1931: The "Ideal" Layout
The 1930s took on a whole new kitchen design. After the stock market crash in 1929, life was tough, and people were struggling to make ends meet. Throughout all of this, however, the kitchen remained a place of comfort and a space for family bonding.
With the limited cash flow, many people were limited to just dreaming of their "ideal" kitchen. Those with the means would strive for a brightly colored kitchen - a happy place to counteract the depressing times. Plenty of storage cabinets and a breakfast nook were also high up on the list of people's desires.
1933: The Kitchen Trousseau
During the 1930s, it was the woman of the house that was usually responsible for the cooking. With this in mind, when a woman was set to marry, there seemed to be no better gift than a 'kitchen trousseau.' With a package including all the necessary household items and utensils, she was set for life.
The '30s were the darkest years of the Great Depression and so when it came to cooking, simple and practical were the focus. For this reason, the set did not include any fancy, decorative kitchen items but rather the basics - such as a strainer, measuring spoons, knives, pots, and pans.
1935: Art Deco Style
By 1935, everyone was looking to shake things up when it came to their kitchen design. Inspired by the art deco architectural trend of the decade, geometric shapes and sleek styles were brought into the kitchen layout. This kitchen went for a quirky wallpaper, set behind an open stove nook and many closed storage cabinets.
Another essential kitchen design upgrade was the return of countertop space. Previously lost to the oversized sink, the now-smaller appliances left more room for kitchen surface spaces. These significantly eased the preparation process of feeding larger families.
1940: Modern Electric Design
The 1940s kitchen design is described as the 'modern electric kitchen.' With this economy slightly on the up, families found they were able to afford more electric kitchen appliances. The toaster oven, microwave, and refrigerator were transforming the appearance and functionality of the kitchen.
This photo features "the kitchen of tomorrow" advertised to the public in Marshall Field & Company magazine. With the Great Depression moving into the country's rear-view mirror, this kitchen represented the people's sense of hope and excitement over what was to come.
1947: Post-War America
America was transformed in the aftermath of World War II. The sense of patriotism was overwhelming as the people were incredibly proud of how their country had successfully defeated their enemies. As the center of the home, the kitchen design embodied this sentiment with red, blue, and white features.
The addition of the country's colors wasn't the only difference in kitchen design seen during this era. With so many losing their lives at war, people felt pressure to repopulate the country. Within a few years, there was a baby boom, and with that came a need for bigger kitchens with more places to sit!
1955: Fit For A Housewife
Back in the 50s, there was a clear gender division of household tasks. While the man was out working and earning a living for the family, the woman was expected to stay home and manage the cooking, cleaning, and family needs. As the women spent so much time in the kitchen, it naturally transformed into a multi-functional room.
As seen in this photo, the woman is doing her ironing in the kitchen corner, all while managing her clean kitchen! Organization was the key to a well-functioning kitchen, as seen by the color coordination and salt and pepper shakers. This was also the beginning of the checkered floor phenomenon!
1956: A Social Spot
The mid-1950s saw a new understanding that the kitchen is not merely a place to make food but also a place for social interaction. It was the central hub for family interaction and relaxation, and the designs began to reflect this concept. Bright, fun colors, shapes, and patterns were seen throughout the American kitchen.
This 1956 advertisement for Glendura perfectly depicts this idea. The woman is seen standing in her kitchen, smiling as she looks around at its colorful design and seamlessly incorporated social-dining space. The checkered linoleum floor was also a key part of this "dream kitchen" they were selling.
1958: Mrs. Maisel's Kitchen
For anyone wishing to know what a late '50s American kitchen looked like, switching on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will provide a pretty good idea of the design. Following a woman who stays home with her two kids while her husband goes out to work, the series perfectly showcases family life during this period.
Much effort was put in to ensure that the kitchen set design accurately represented those of its time-setting. With the white cabinets and countertops, the checkered linoleum floor, and the red aspects throughout, it was a '50s kitchen in every way.
1960: Home Economics
A new ideology arose at the start of the 60s: if a woman was expected to do all the household tasks, it was only fair if she was adequately trained to do so. With this, home economics was added to the school curriculum. The course covered nutrition, housing, clothing, home management, family development, and more.
This photo shows young girls in a mock kitchen learning how to cook and manage a home. While the kitchen they are setting up may not be a real one in an actual home, kitchens during this time were slowly beginning to look like this. With large dining nooks at the center, the kitchen was a place to cook and entertain.
By the mid-1960s, the kitchen design had an upgraded focus on hosting family and friends for meals. The multi-functional kitchens included cutting-edge technological items that helped to ease the task of entertaining. There was also an emphasis on a compact and efficient kitchen layout.
The Dutch-style kitchen was seen in homes throughout the country during these years. The contemporary style helped to maximize the space in what were often smaller kitchens. With quilt designs and the exciting dishwasher revelation, the kitchen layout was slowly transitioning to the one we know and love today.
1969: A New Approach
As the '60s drew to a close, kitchens remained the same in terms of their functionality. Most of the changes during this time period were seen in the kitchen appearance. Wood was incorporated into the design like never before - wooden appliances and wooden cabinets. The room felt spacious and open to new ideas.
In this photo, a 1969 housewife can be seen in her kitchen. The more-earthy toned colors of her outfit and room setting are representative of the-then design shift from bright colors and shiny linoleum floors. Wooden appliances and large windows were all the rage.
1970: Getting Groovy
A time of social reformation, the 70's focused on freedom of expression, creativity, and unity. This was also the decade of technological advancements, disco music, and good, groovy vibes. Of course, it was just a matter of time until this was all translated into the kitchen design.
Heavily influenced by the experimental society around it, the early 70's American kitchen was a time for 'out-there' designs, colors, patterns, and even furniture. As in the photograph above, floral patterns made up of 'clashing' colors were being seen in kitchens nationwide. She does look pleased with her log-shaped chairs!
1976: A Classic '70s Kitchen
Despite being filmed in the '90s, That '70s Show did an incredible job of portraying life in the '70s. Centered around a group of teens struggling with the highs and lows of life, its use of the kitchen as the background setting for the show's most iconic scenes helped to keep the show accurate to its time.
In an attempt to keep things according to the period's style trends, set designers kept to dusty tones of green and orange for the kitchen's furniture and decor. But it was more than just the props that made the room feel so true-to-life; it was the heart and soul of the Forman home, as it was for so many 70's families.
1976: A Wooden Makeover
There were many kitchen-style trends to come and go throughout the years. However, the most popular ones were known to stick around for a while - some even till today. The wooden designs introduced at the end of the '60s remained relevant even until the late '70s with wooden countertops, drawers, and even kitchen utensils.
People would stop at nothing to incorporate the brown material into their cooking areas, choosing wooden tables and chairs for eating. It was believed that this style helped the room feel more cozy and welcoming, also serving to make the room appear more spacious. Even the beloved linoleum floors were being swapped out!
1980: Everything Pastel
As America waved goodbye to the '70s, they simultaneously waved hello to a new kitchen color scheme. It was out with the earthy tones and in with the bright pastels - with many kitchens looking like something out of Barbie's dream house. Not everyone's kitchens looked like the one below, but it was certainly the overall vibe.
While, at first, it may seem that nothing from the past was brought into this kitchen design, a closer look would reveal otherwise. Following the '70s' tendency to clash colors and vibes, the '70s kitchen followed suit - this time, however, using more dusty pastels. The plaid wallpaper also took notes from the '60s kitchen.
1980: A Kitchen Island
It goes without saying that a bright pink kitchen was not to everyone's tastes. On the flip side, people were opting for traditional, family-focused homes and kitchens. White colorings with a splash of color, open floor plans, greenery, and big windows all contributed to an overall sense of chill.
The introduction of the island helped to transform the layout of the kitchen. Providing additional countertop space and a place to display food aesthetically, the island's appeal was apparent. And everyone wanted one in the center of their kitchen! Often made of Formica, it was the perfect preparation and dining space.
1985: The "Golden" Age
The popular NBC '80s sitcom, The Golden Girls, followed a group of divorced women taking on life and living together in a home in Miami. Despite not being a conventional family as such, the kitchen still acted as the central meeting point of the house. Over coffee and biscuits, they sat and shared their lives.
This scene snapshot screams the '80s in every way. Yes, the outfits, of course - but most of all, Blanche's kitchen. With the dusty pastel color scheme, the patterned wallpaper, wood-stained cabinets, and florals everywhere, it was an authentic '80s experience.
1989: Monochromatic Designs
As the world moved towards the Information Age and technology continued to evolve in the late '80s, people's tastes in kitchen design shifted alongside it. At the start of the decade, people were favoring pastel and earthy colors. But by the end of the '80s, many wanted the monochromatic kitchen.
Families were ditching the homey vibes and embracing the sleek and sophisticated kitchen appearance. Stainless steel also began to be incorporated into the designs, which only served to emphasize this concept further. The white cabinets + stainless steel appliance combo was everywhere!
1990's: Going Rustic
Just one year later, the monochromatic kitchen was very much a thing of the past. In what seems like a step back, people were reverting their kitchens to the wooden kitchen we saw in the '70s. This time, the wood was giving off a more rustic and cozy ambiance.
Pine cabinets, antique dishes, and pops of color throughout the home, all helped to create a cozy vibe - resembling the appearance of a cabin. To really manufacture the cabin energy, fruits, in all shapes and forms, were incorporated into the kitchen's design. Real fruit, fake fruit, and pictures of fruit - it all did the trick!
1990's: Introducing The TV
When the television was introduced to the world in the 1930s, its hefty price point limited its availability to just the rich and famous. However, by the mid-1950s, the technological item was becoming more mainstream, with millions of families bringing it into their homes. By the early '90s, it became a staple in the kitchen.
Families were spending the majority of their time in the kitchen, so it only made sense for the television to be placed there rather than in the living room. This picture highlights two other popular kitchen features of the early '90s - fake plants and wooden countertops.
1993: Geometric & Bright
Although this looks exactly like the set of The French Prince of Bel-Air, it's actually just a real-life typical '90s kitchen. In fact, any '90s sitcom would likely feature a kitchen like the one below because this was the decade's go-to kitchen style. On and off screen, it served as the family's social hub.
A '90s kitchen can be identified by its open and bright layout, with geometric shapes on the countertops. The more subtle features, such as the fake plants and apple bowl, also help to give its age away. Just a year later would see the rise of the "shabby chic" kitchen style.
1994: The Friends Kitchen
The hilarious sitcom Friends perfectly depicted life in '90s New York City. Perhaps one of the reasons for its popularity was its relatability as people saw their own lives reflected on the screen. Most of those watching it in the years it aired would have seen that Monica's kitchen was designed similarly to theirs.
Channeling a 'shabby chic' vibe throughout, the Friends set included slightly worn-out and likely second-hand furniture. Through the mismatched appliances, decorations, and furniture, Monica created a homey and totally '90s apartment! Of course, her kitchen was the backdrop for some of the show's most iconic moments.
2000: Simply Traditional
At the turn of the millennial, people had moved on from the bright kitchen design trends seen through the prior decade. It was now all about the simple and traditional kitchen - the perfect place for a family to spend most of their time together. Kitchens at this time often favored open floor plans and islands.
Now installed with a granite countertop, kitchen islands blended seamlessly into the white-colored kitchens and had increased versatility. It provided additional space for food preparation and the perfect spot for the kids to do their homework while eating a snack.
2002: Open Plan
After the island proved to be the perfect way to increase the social component of the kitchen, people began to look at what else they could do to open their homes further and create the ultimate hosting space. Open floor plan designs were soon incorporated to morph the kitchen into the dining and living room spaces.
The new millennium brought with it a new kitchen design. Again supporting the fact that kitchens are the central point of the home, kitchens were no longer enclosed rooms. The open-floor plans meant some family members could be in the lounge and others in the kitchen yet still feel like they were together.
2004: New Technology
By 2004, the Digital Revolution was fully underway. For anyone that thought the '90s TV in the kitchen was an advanced and exciting concept, what came next truly blew their mind. One could now buy a fridge with a TV built in. Transforming the kitchen and cooking experience, they flew off the shelves.
Alongside this rise in technology came a newfound popularity for stainless steel kitchen gadgets and utensils. In stark contrast to the more traditional rustic theme, this silver material was the ultimate sign of class. Since then, technology has continued to advance, skyrocketing the American kitchen into the future...